Show Me Your #WriMoFace!

Paul's WriMo Face

Paul’s WriMo Face

Day 3 and I’m behind. I had huge travel days recently. I went from Newark, Delaware to New York City, New York City to Pleasant Valley, New York. Pleasant Valley to New Paltz, NY. New Paltz back to New York City. New York City to Poughkeepsie and I head back to Newark, Delaware tomorrow. My head is spinning and I’ve had about five hours of sleep in the past two days.

I worked on my NaNoWriMo novel on my phone, my tablet, and my wife’s computer. I had dreams about it last night. I still haven’t entered an official word count on the WriMo site because I’m waiting to dump everything into Scrivener. As I was working on it today at Starbucks, I decided to take a break. I opened up Photo Booth on my wife’s Mac and snapped a photo of me working on my novel. Then I thought it might be fun to see what everyone looks like as they are working on their novels, so I wrote this quick post.

Here’s what I want you to do. Take a selfie of you working on your novel and share it on Twitter with the hashtag #wrimoface or just include a link in the comments and we’ll be able to check them out. (Extra points for creativity, mine was pretty boring.)

Have fun everyone! (I’ll be posting word counts later tonight and I hope to be caught up.) If you need support, don’t hesitate to reach out. Keep writing. Your stories are the wildest things!


(P.S. This is my 100th post on Stories are the Wildest Things. Thank you for your support!)

The NaNoWriMo Coffee Chocolate Correlation – please participate!

As I wrote in my earlier post, 6 Things You Need to Thrive During NaNoWriMo 2014, chocolate and coffee are the first two things on that list.

I thought it would be fun to have WriMos keep track of their consumption of coffee and chocolate and then enter their word counts for the day to see how consuming these essentials might correlate to the size of their word count.

The more people who take part in The NaNoWriMo Coffee Chocolate Correlation, the bigger the sample we’ll have.

So please click on the link and fill out the form all the way through NaNoWriMo 2014 (Nov. 1-30, 2014) when you take a break from your writing and we’ll see what happens! (If you could share this with others on social media we’ll get a bigger sample as well.)

Also, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter if you’re having a bad writing day, looking for some encouraging words, or just want to celebrate your success. I’ll be pounding the keyboard along with all of you.


Thanks, everyone! Have a great NaNoWriMo 2014.

Here’s a link to the survey:

Here’s a screenshot of what the form will look like:

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 12.01.06 PM

Shakespeare and My Birthday – Writing Quote Wednesday

(Credit: Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny using photo by rosevita)

(Credit: Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny using photo by rosevita)

Writing Quote Wednesday just happens to fall on my birthday this year.

I also just happen to be rehearsing a Shakespeare play on my birthday, so I thought I’d grab a few words from his 884,647 or so (That’s almost 18 NaNoWriMos). I’m sitting just outside the rehearsal room door thinking how lucky I am to have the opportunity to be saying Shakespeare’s words as I add another year to my life on this Earth. We’re working on Macbeth, or The Scottish Play to those who are superstitious, and it’s a grand adventure to work with this company on this story.

My heart is often cooled with mortifying groans that I’m getting older. My left shoulder has a nagging pain that doesn’t go away. I need cheater glasses to read fine print. I have to watch my blood pressure and the weight I put on in winter doesn’t seem to come off as easily as it did in my youth.

I am also an oenophile, so my liver is often plenty hot from the drinking of wine. A good red wine, a good book and a bar of dark chocolate is something like bliss to me. (It also makes for a good workout according to this book.)

As I celebrate one more year, I hope, that like Gratiano from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, I can continue to play the fool into my old age. I have plenty of wrinkles, which have come from equal parts mirth and laughter and worry and concern, but the ones that have come from mirth and laughter are much more fun to remember.

I’m looking forward to many more years of laughter and many more wrinkles to come.

Ksenia Anske – Writing Quote Wednesday

(Credit: Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny using photo by kakisky)

(Credit: Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny using photo by kakisky)

One of my favorite writers who engages regularly in an enchanting way on Twitter is Ksenia Anske.

Anske communicates freely and honestly through her Twitter feed and blog and I really appreciate the way she approaches writing and life. Her personal story is as fascinating as the books she writes and she gives away her books for free. She asks her readers to buy or donate to keep her writing, and they do.

As some of you know, in addition to publishing this blog and finishing the short story for the anthology, I’m currently working as an actor in the Scottish play (Shakespeare’s Macbeth) and prepping for NaNoWriMo 2014. I got home from rehearsal quite late, looked at the calendar, and realized that it was time for Writing Quote Wednesday! I hopped online immediately.

The first thing I saw waiting in my browser was this great post by Ksenia called How to Write Your First Draft in 20 Days. It’s filled with great advice about writing, not just for people who are doing WriMo, but for anyone who wants to get a first draft done with as little stress as possible.

I urge you to read her post and subscribe to her blog, then hop on Twitter and follow her. If you do, she might even send you a finger monkey like this one.

A Finger Monkey

A Finger Monkey

6 Things You Need to Thrive During NaNoWriMo 2014

It’s coming…

NaNoWriMo 2014 – that month-long frenzy of key-bashing goodness that can bring me to my knees in tears, make me mumble to myself while walking in circles, take extra-long showers, cause excited jumping around the room and then leave me with a messy pile of 50,000 words that needs a lot of revision to make any sense.

As a past winner, I’ve learned there are a few essentials you need to get through the month with as few bumps and bruises as possible. Here is my list and why I’m stocking my WriMo closet now.

6 Things You Need to Thrive During NaNoWriMo 2014


(Credit: Image from Wikimedia Commons user Sandstein)

Chocolate and Coffee

If you’re feeling anxious about meeting your word counts, have a bar of dark chocolate on hand to calm those nerves. In a study done at an Australian university, they found that the polyphenols in chocolate can calm people and make them feel less anxious because they attach themselves to brain receptors associated with anxiety. Matthew Pase, one of the authors of the study said, “This clinical trial is perhaps the first to scientifically demonstrate the positive effects of cocoa polyphenols on mood.”

If you want those words to flow during Wrimo you might want to grab a bar or two of dark chocolate (the darker the chocolate, the more polyphenols it has). Since the cocoa polyphenols in dark chocolate stem anxiety, and anxiety turns on that internal editor and keeps your ideas from flowing, you could infer that eating dark chocolate can help keep your word counts up because your ideas will be flowing faster!

Coffee is a given for me for Wrimo, but I have to be careful that I don’t drink too much throughout my writing session or I’ll get all jittery and crash.

It’s said that Balzac drank up to 50 cups a day. He describes what he calls a “horrible, rather brutal method” of preparing coffee using “finely pulverized, dense coffee, cold and anhydrous, consumed on an empty stomach.” In The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee Balzac describes the effect drinking this concoction will have on you.

“From that moment on, everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination’s orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink – for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder.”

If you continue to drink too much coffee, though, even Balzac knew that it would cause you to “fall into horrible sweats, suffer feebleness of the nerves, and undergo episodes of severe drowsiness.” So be careful with your intake of this useful medicine.

If you need some creative ways to serve up your favorite caffeinated beverage, check out this great article on about other ways to prepare coffee.


A Writing Totem

A writing totem is an object that can help keep you inspired or in a writing-state-of-mind. Some people use articles of clothing like the WriMo t-shirts and Viking helmets. Other WriMos like to have an object like a stuffed-animal, a small figurine, or a special pen that they keep close by.

By placing the totem near your writing space, it gives you the power to keep going. It reminds you of what you are trying to accomplish during WriMo.

Totems can also let others know that you aren’t just surfing the internet, but are in full-on WriMo mode, dwelling in what NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty calls the “shadowy realm of the novel.” They’ll look at you and say, “Uh-oh, the Viking hat is on. Better stay clear.”

Since I’m an actor as well as a writer, I find that dressing up in some way can definitely put me in a different mood and allows new ideas to flow. Dress rehearsal always adds a new element to any performance and the clothing you wear gives you a sense of who you are and how you move in the created world of the play. I have certain hats I like to wear when writing. (I also like having a framed inspirational quote from Writing Quote Wednesday nearby.)

Please leave a comment to let us know what kind of writing totems you use for NaNoWriMo.


(Credit: photo by xololounge)

Your Writing Plan

Start now on figuring out what kind of book you want to write. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, is often credited with saying, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

I highly recommend that you start figuring out the basics of the novel you want to work on during WriMo. Starting on the first day with no planning is possible. I did it and won. But the resulting messy pile of words is going to be really tough to revise.

In the article I wrote about 8 Best-Selling Novels Written During NaNoWriMo, most of the authors said they had more success in the years when they did some pre-planning before WriMo began.

At the very least decide what kind of book you want to write. Then start thinking about characters and what they want from each other. The more specific you can be about your characters, the more details you can write about them. Sometimes I cast the characters with photos of actors (or random people online) to get a sense of the type of person they are.

It really helps to know your ending because you can drive your word count to that ending. Think about it. If I told you to come and visit me but didn’t give you my address, you could be driving for years before you find out where I am. By knowing where you’re going, you can plan on how to get there. You can take lots of side trips to look at interesting things, but knowing where you’ll stop gives you a direction and a plan to get there.

When I figure out where my characters are going, I start to think about what kind of fun situations I can put the characters in. I like to come up with short summaries of each chapter with ideas for scenes within those chapters. These are often called “beats.”

I have nothing against pantsing – writing a novel with no plan by the seat of your pants – but if you want to write faster, having a plan really helps. You’re always free to change the plan as you go. I often find that I thought the story was going one way and the characters decided to take it another. Most people find that they combine pansting and plotting throughout their writing process.


Writing is difficult, and frustrating, but if you can’t find joy in some aspect of it, something is wrong. When this happens, you might be writing the story you feel you SHOULD write and not the story you WANT to write.


Take some time before WriMo starts and think about what brings you JOY.

Ask yourself, “What would I do even if I wasn’t being paid to do it?”

There might be something in what brings you joy that can become a focus for your book. It might be something a main character does. It might be a theme you’ve wanted to explore. By thinking about the joy, you can write about the struggles your main character goes through when the joy isn’t there.

Another way to look at this is to figure out what you LOSE YOURSELF in.

What is the thing you do that you start at a certain time and when you stop and look at the clock you realize several hours have passed and it feels like minutes? How can writing be like that for you if it isn’t right now?

As you’re prepping for WriMo, what figure out what EXCITES you about the characters, scenes, the novel itself? If it’s not exciting to you, WHY?

You want to turn off that internal editor while you’re writing in November and let the ideas flow. You want to get the first draft on the page. To do this more powerfully, look for the JOY. Be a “listening” for what is joyful about the process. If you are a listening for something, you’ll be amazed at how it shows up in your life.

People who are a listening for what can go wrong often find themselves in situations where things go horribly wrong. People who are a listening for what they can learn from a situation end up learning something. People who are a listening for joy often find it in the tiniest of accomplishments.

You made your word count for the day. JOY! (Why? You set a goal and kept it.)

You didn’t make your word count for the day. JOY! (Why? It gives you a chance to be a hero tomorrow. Plus, it probably means you need to do more thinking about your story.)

You went way over your word count and discovered something new about a character. JOY! (Why? Because that is really cool and you are AWESOME.)

Read: Connect with Joy Instead of Searching for Joy by TIny Buddha

(Credit: photo by pippalou)

(Credit: photo by pippalou)


This is a big one. I know. I think about it a lot. How do we reserve the time to get the writing done?

I think joy and planning (and chocolate and coffee) help us find the time.

What activity are you doing every day that you can do less of during WriMo?

Bingeing on Netflix? Remember, Netflix will be there at the end of November. (How to Overcome a Binge-watching Addiction from the Wall Street Journal)

Like to sleep in? Is it possible to get up a little earlier? How about going to bed a little later? (How to Wake Up Early by Jeff Goins)

Kids keeping you distracted? NOW is the time to introduce them to the wonders of reading a book quietly. (How to Get Work Done With Kids at Home)

What about your friends and significant others? Some people find that telling them you are working on WriMo and that it’s important is a good step and others like to keep WriMo a secret.

If you have an app like Evernote on your phone or tablet, you can feed the word count beast on your lunch break and then dump the words into the manuscript when you have the time.

The main thing to do is to start writing. As the prolific author Louis L’Amour says, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Please comment on your favorite ways of finding the time to get your words down.


Keep an eye out for more NaNoWriMo posts coming out soon! During WriMo I’m planning on writing a novel based on my steampunk fantasy short story, My Strength Will Ease Your Sorrow. It’s set in the world of The Dream Engine written by the guys over at Sterling and Stone. See you in the Winner’s Circle!

8 Best Selling Novels Written During NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it’s affectionately called, starts in less than two weeks.


I’m a past winner of this book writing frenzy. I’m proud of my stickers and certificate saying that I participated and completed 50,000 words in 30 days (which works out to about 1,667 words a day). I had been struggling to complete a novel length story for years and the year I decided to do WriMo I was determined to finish a first draft “no matter what.”

The resulting work, The Sangoma’s Daughter, started out as a vague idea I had about a down-on-his-luck janitor at an American university who meets and has a tempestuous relationship with a young Zulu woman from South Africa who is a sangoma (a traditional healer). I decided to “pants” the story.

For those of you who don’t know what a “pantser” is, it’s someone who just jumps into writing a story with no pre-planning and then writes a white-hot first draft by the “seat of their pants” – a pantser. I’m now a firm believer in being a plotter – someone who writes out beats (story actions) and figures out what the characters want from each other before the story begins. As I write within the plotted out beats I often find the freedom to pants some scenes as well.

The result of pantsing a NaNoWriMo novel was a 50,000 word story that is a total mess. As I wrote I became fascinated with this janitor who lived by himself in a utility closet on campus and the Sangoma’s daughter never quite made it into the story. It was a wreck.

Some days, in order to get out my writing quota of 1,667 words, I’d make up lists of things that my janitor would be thinking about instead of figuring out what he was doing. I’d write endless run-on sentences just to pile up words. The “novel” is full of long passages of description that aren’t important, dialogue that is pumped up with unnecessary information and general fumbling around to try to find what my story was about. I still haven’t made another pass at this story, but I will return to it someday to see if I can salvage a chapter or two.

What I did get out of participating in NaNoWriMo, though, was a sense of accomplishment and a respect for the hard work it takes to complete a novel. I said I was going to write 50,000 words and I did. I met a wonderful community of people who were all struggling with the same journey of discovering what their stories were about. I also realized what it would take to stick to a novel-length story: lots of hours in the chair, no editing, staying immersed in the story, keeping to word counts and deadlines, being okay with writing a terrible first draft and not giving up. No wonder Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Although my story was a wreck, there are several best-selling novels that came out of participation in NaNoWriMo. Perhaps yours will be a best-seller some day, too.

Leave me a comment about your participation in NaNoWriMo and let me know if you’ve published your work. Please include a link to the work so we can check it out.

8 Best Selling Novels Written During NaNoWriMo

The Lunar Chronicles

Some novelists struggle to write ONE first draft during WriMo.

YA fiction writer Marissa Meyer wrote THREE: Cinder, Scarlet and Cress.

These futuristic re-tellings of famous fairy tales with a sci-fi twist were all written during a 2008 NaNoWriMo. As a self-professed geek and chronic over-achiever, Meyer says she participated in WriMo that year because she was trying to win a contest where the Seattle based writer with the most words written during the month would get to play a walk-on role on a future episode of Star Trek. She came in third with a word count of 150,011 and didn’t get the role, but she ended up with 70,000 words for Cinder, 50,000 words for Scarlet and about 30,000 words for Cress. 

Before she published the novels, all three had to be completely scrapped and re-written. Meyer said, “I may not produce anything of quality during NaNoWriMo, but I always come away with a great roadmap.” It was two years to the day she started Cinder during WriMo that she got her first offer from a publisher.

Meyer says she’s a neurotic plotter who spends weeks, months even, on brainstorming, plotting, re-arranging notecards and making character arc charts. She also uses the Scrivener color-coding feature to help keep track of what’s going on in her stories. Her revision process is extensive. For these best sellers she did two entire rewrites, six or seven rounds of revisions, had eight beta readers, and did countless polishing and editing after WriMo was over. All that hard work paid off for Meyer and her Lunar Chronicles series is a huge success.

Darwin Elevator

Jason Hough (pronounced “Huff”) is still in denial about his success with his WriMo novel, Darwin Elevator. He did a WriMo in 2007 and said his story, Tact or Fiction, basically fell apart after the first chapter because he tried to pants it and just jumped into it with no planning. He did finish with 50,280 words, however. Although the story was a bust, he had a sense of accomplishment and a new found respect for the hard work it takes to write a novel.

In 2008 he tried again, but this time he had a highly detailed outline, lots of character sketches and maps, and an idea of what he was getting himself into. He completed the first 50,000 words of Darwin Elevator, then after stepping back for awhile and doing a first revision pass himself, he hired a freelance editor.

He recommends using writing software like Scrivener to get the job done because it makes the revision process so much easier. He also advises everyone to do their research when they are querying an agent. He says, “At least 75% of queries are discarded almost immediately by agents for simple mistakes. Lesson: It doesn’t take much to increase your chances significantly.”

For more inspiration from Hough check out his post: Doing NaNoWriMo: some tips for success.


Hugh Howey has been a supporter and participant in WriMo for several years. His breakout dystopian sci-fi novella series, Wool, thrust self-publishing into the national media spotlight. After selling tens of thousands of books directly to readers, he was picked up for a six-figure deal by a major publisher. Howey wrote three of the five novellas of the Wool series in 2011 and published one of them.

Check out Howey’s post NaNoWriMo is Almost Here for some great inspiration and what to look for if this your first time participating.


Rainbow Rowell says she did “some of the bravest writing” she’s ever done during her 2011 WriMo stint. She was already an accomplished author with two published books, Attachments and Eleanor and Parkand thought that WriMo was something amateur writers did.

She was reluctant to participate because it seemed like something writers who needed to trick themselves into writing did to just pile up words. But then she thought it might be wonderful to have a nice big pile of 50,000 words to play around with.

Her pile of words written in 2011 wasn’t a mess at all and became the first 50,000 words of a best-selling novel called Fangirl

Rowell credits WriMo with changing how she wrote. Usually she would start writing by rewriting what she had written in the last session, but for WriMo she had given herself three goals: to write every day, to write at least 2,000 words a day, and to keep moving forward.

She was surprised to find that she could easily pick up where she left off and felt like the momentum she generated by staying in the world of the story contributed to its success. She didn’t finish the novel during WriMo, but after a heavy rewrite that Spring to finish the story, she was shocked to realize she kept almost all the words she created during WriMo.

Rowell said, “NaNoWriMo helped me push past so many of my doubts and insecurities and bad habits. And I think that’s partly why I love Fangirl so much now—because I remember how swept away I felt when I was writing it.”

The Night Circus

Although Erin Morgenstern‘s novel, The Night Circus, has had rapturous reviews, strong sales and the movie rights bought by the producers of the Harry Potter films, it started out as a much different story during NaNoWriMo.

Morgenstern said, “I was working on a different story altogether, one that was becoming progressively more and more boring because nothing was happening. I needed something exciting to happen and I couldn’t figure out how to do it with the locations I had so I sent the characters to the circus. That circus was immediately much more interesting and eventually I abandoned that other story and its characters entirely and focused on the circus instead. What eventually became The Night Circus started from exploring that spontaneously-created location, figuring out who created it and who performed in it and what its story was.”

She calls herself a binge writer and prefers to write in long sessions rather than every day. She attributes this to getting her start as a serious writer by participating in NaNoWriMo.

Water for Elephants

The transplanted Canadian, Sara Gruen, (now a U.S. citizen as well) moved to the U.S. for a job as a technical writer in 1999. When she got laid off in 2001, she decided to gamble on writing fiction instead of looking for another job. Her novel, Water for Elephants, started as a WriMo novel and has been on best-seller lists for over a year, read and discussed by book clubs around the country and turned into a film starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattison. (60% on

In her pep talk for NaNoWriMo participants Gruen says was having trouble with her own word counts when she realized she wasn’t heeding her own advice. She was ignoring her own rules: no editing, it’s okay to write a really bad first draft, and move around the story as much as you want. When she realized this for herself, she tossed all that aside and started focusing on writing the fun parts of the story that she wanted to write.

As her last bit of advice, Gruen said, “However far behind you are, take comfort in knowing that there is somebody else out there in the same boat, and look for that next fun scene. And then the next. And if that doesn’t work, set someone on fire. In your book, of course.”


I found a lot of inspiration in reading about these authors and their varied paths to publishing success that began by participating in NaNoWriMo. I wish all of you much success with your writing journey this coming month and hope to hear from you how it’s going. If you haven’t yet done a WriMo, I urge you to take the plunge.

Remember, Stories are the Wildest Things, and they can take you places you’ve never been before, especially if you’re the ones writing them. See you in the Winner’s Circle.

(Sources:,, Author websites)

Steven Pressfield – Writing Quote Wednesday

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny from photo

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny from photo

NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. Thousands of writers will be sweating out a first draft of 50K words between November 1-30, 2014. I took this week’s writing quote from Steven Pressfield’s inspirational manifesto – Do the Work! (I HIGHLY recommend you pick up this book if you don’t have it.) I think it embodies the spirit of NaNoWriMo – don’t try to control your idea, figure out what is is and wants to be and then bring it into being.

I’ll also be posting a more extensive post about Getting NaNoWriMo Done soon. Look for it over the next day or two.

Please leave a comment about your success or failure with NaNoWriMo in the past few years. I’m curious to hear how people have done in the past, whether you completed (and sent out) your novel after writing your first draft and what you hope to accomplish this year.

Thank you for commenting! I love hearing from everyone.